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Archives for Humanitarian Assistance

Responding to the Crisis in the Sahel

Even in the best years, it is difficult to eke a living out of the harsh sands of the western Sahara. But this year, a series of events has unfolded that has made it even harder for the people of the Sahel to survive. Sahelians live in one of the toughest environments on earth, in deserts spanning from Mauritania on Africa’s west coast, eastward across Mali, Burkina Faso, Northern Nigeria, Niger, and Chad.

This season, a drought, pockets of emerging tribal and ethnic violence, and an influx of migrants from Libya—95,000 have recently arrived in Niger alone—have converged to create a crisis that has left more than 7 million people in need of emergency assistance. In addition, food prices are high, and unrest in north Africa has cut off the flow of remittances, which have traditionally helped families cope with tough times.

With the support of the American people, USAID is providing emergency aid—including food, water, health and nutritional services, and other supplies—that is now helping more than 2.5 million people affected by the growing crisis.

USAID is providing an additional $33 million in humanitarian funding in the coming weeks to meet food needs across the region, support programs that protect vulnerable populations’ assets and livelihoods, and provide critical support to those facing malnutrition. When award of the 33 million is completed, USAID’s total assistance provided to the Sahel food insecurity crisis in FY 11 and FY 12 will be more than $270 million. This is in addition to USAID’s longer-term programs to alleviate poverty, improve health and economic opportunity, and mitigate and resolve conflict.

As we learned through the ongoing response in the Horn of Africa and other food security emergencies in the past, a rapid response is important. But it is also important to push our responses to be smarter, more effective, and linked to programming that promotes resiliency and addresses root causes so that we move people out of chronic crisis and towards prosperity.

On Wednesday, in Rome, USAID Assistant Administrator Nancy Lindborg met with the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department, the United Nations agencies, and representatives of affected governments, and they stood together to call for an urgent scale-up of humanitarian, rehabilitation and development assistance to respond to rising levels of hunger in the Sahel region. Working together, we will help save lives now, build resilience in these countries, and help prevent the cycle of crisis in the future.

Video from the Sahel, provided by the World Food Programme, can be viewed on YouTube.

FY13 Budget: Making Smart Investments

The Fiscal Year 2013 International Affairs budget, which was released on February 13, showcases President Obama’s commitment to making smart, efficient investments to help those in the greatest need while helping to create economic opportunity and safeguarding American security.

It is important to remember that these numbers represent lives around the world that can be supported and saved through our smart investments in agriculture, health, and access to clean water, among other programs.  And these investments come at an incredibly small fraction of our national budget—in the case of development assistance, less than one percent.

Similar investments we made last year demonstrated a number of important results. Thanks to our investments in humanitarian assistance, we were able to save tens of thousands of lives in the Horn of Africa after a devastating drought led to famine and threw over 13 million people into crisis. U.S.  support helped provide lifesaving AIDS drugs to nearly 4 million people, protect 200,000 infants from HIV infection and keep millions of children throughout Africa safe from malaria. And our  agricultural investments are  supporting the goal of lifting 18 million people from a state of hunger and poverty.

Despite those results, we’ve had to make difficult choices this year, consolidating some programs and eliminating others. Our 2013 budget shows a willingness to focus on countries and programs where we believe we can make the greatest impact.

Global health is a key part of our investment in economic and human security.  Our request goes to cost-effective, proven global health interventions delivered through President Obama’s Global Health Initiative. These investments will help achieve a number of the President’s ambitious global health goals, including saving the lives of five million children by the year 2015, and expanding HIV/AIDS treatment. Thanks to the falling costs of health commodities, including contraceptives, malaria bednets and antiretroviral drugs, and increased investments by partner governments, we can now save more lives.

$1 billion of our FY 2013 request is devoted to Feed the Future, President Obama’s landmark food security initiative. These investments will help countries develop their own agricultural economies and  grow their way out of hunger and poverty, rather than relying on humanitarian food aid that costs us seven times as much to deliver. We’ve also designed a results framework so we can transparently measure and demonstrate the impact our investments have made in fighting poverty, hunger and malnutrition.

Our budget request maintains robust funding for our humanitarian accounts. Efficiencies in our use of these resources will ensure we have the necessary means to continue U.S. leadership in responding to natural and man-made disasters, just as we did last year after a devastating drought in the Horn of Africa. In addition, we continue to increase our focus on preventing future crises through disaster risk reduction activities and funding for greater resilience against food shocks through Feed the Future.

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Haitian Prime Minister Visits USAID

USAID Deputy Adminstrator Donald Steinberg (left) meets Haiti's Prime Minister Garry Conille on Feb. 7, 2012. Photo by Kendra Helmer/USAID

USAID officials met with a delegation from the government of Haiti on Tuesday to discuss international coordination and the pace of reconstruction following the 2010 earthquake. Haiti Prime Minister Garry Conille and other representatives met with USAID officials including Administrator Rajiv Shah, Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg,  Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean Mark Feierstein and Haiti Task Team Director Elizabeth Hogan. Also participating was the State Department’s Haiti Special Coordinator Thomas Adams.

The group also discussed USAID programs in Haiti (including support to the legislature), donor coordination, women’s affairs and facilitating private investment. During his five-day visit to Washington, D.C., Conille also plans to meet with congressional members and institutions including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Faith and Development

This year’s National Prayer Breakfast on February 2, 2012 capped off what was a very busy week of events for USAID and our faith-based friends and colleagues.  But above the events and meetings, what was most important was the chance to connect with old friends and build new friendships, to hear personal stories from people who are passionately committed to helping the most vulnerable.

Early in the week, I had the pleasure of meeting Kay Warren of Saddleback Church, who is an advocate for orphans and for people infected and affected by HIV and AIDS. She spoke to our senior staff about the work Saddleback and it’s congregants have been doing in Rwanda, including raising $12 million, sending 1,000 church workers to Rwanda, and training 3,500 community health workers with plans to double that number to 7,000 before the end of this year.

Mid-week, I headed over to the State Department where I was joined by USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict & Humanitarian Assistance Nancy Lindborg.  Together USAID welcomed and talked to a group of pastors convened by Bread for the World.  The group had just returned from a multi-country trip to Africa and it was a great chance to talk about the Feed the Future Initiative and what they saw on their visit.

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More Good News but Crisis Continues

On Friday the United Nations declared that famine is no longer present in Somalia.  This is great and welcome news to the humanitarian aid community.  The newly released data shows the positive impact of the massive international effort to rush life-saving assistance to millions of people in Somalia.  What we are doing is working, and it is saving lives.

A young woman and her child wait to register after they arrive at the Dagahaley refugee camp, in Dadaab, Kenya, Aug. 8, 2011. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

The United States has provided over $210 million in aid for Somalia and played a key role in the international effort to save lives.  Since the crisis began, the international community has assisted 94 percent of the children estimated to be malnourished in southern Somalia, and we have vaccinated over 1.2 million children countrywide.  We have provided sustainable water access for more than 1.9 million people in Somalia, temporary access to safe drinking water for more than 2.9 million people, and sanitation facilities for approximately 1.1 million people.  We have also provided basic health care and hygiene materials and education to nearly 1.9 million people in Somalia.

For more than six months, since famine was first declared in July 2011, we have been focused on trying to save lives, particularly of the many children under five who are most vulnerable to famine.  With the support of many Americans, what we have been able to achieve is impressive, but we know this crisis is far from over.  Somalia is a country plagued by more than 20 years of conflict and insecurity, and it is precisely these conditions that allowed drought-affected areas in southern Somalia to spiral into famine in 2011.  Today nearly a third of the population in Somalia remain in crisis, unable to fully meet the most essential human needs.

This drought has focused all of us on the imperative of building resilience. We know we cannot prevent drought, but we can use improved and smarter programs to create greater resilience and improve food security.  We can make progress that ensures the next time a drought hits the Horn, communities will have the ability to withstand the worst affects without being pushed into crisis.

Can Mobile Money Transform a Country?

Two years after the earthquake, Haiti is rebuilding not just brick by brick, but click by click.

A message confirms the deposit of a new customer who is signing up for Digicel’s Tcho Tcho mobile banking on March 3, 2011, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo Credit: Kendra Helmer/USAID

The earthquake left behind a government in rubble, an economy in shambles, and a people living in makeshift camps, coping with enormous loss.  Against this backdrop, the possibility of progress lives not just in the resilient spirit of the Haitian people, but also in the simple power of their mobile phones.

In June 2010, USAID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched the Haiti Mobile Money Initiative (HMMI)(PDF, 163KB). This program leveraged the private sector and the ubiquity of mobile phones to bring financial services to Haitians, 90 percent of whom didn’t have access to a bank account before the earthquake destroyed nearly one-third of the country’s bank branches, ATMs, and money transfer stations.  Put simply, mobile money gives Haitians access to banking without building a single bank.

It worked.  In January 2011, one year after the earthquake, HMMI awarded Digicel and its partner bank, Scotiabank, a “First to Market” Award of $2.5 million for “Tcho Tcho Mobile.” Five months ago, HMMI awarded mobile operator Voila and their bank partner, Unibank, $1.5 million for “T-Cash.”  While verification is still underway, data reported by the industry indicate that there are nearly 800,000 registered users.  Moreover, there are over 800 agent locations now available to serve clients.  In a country where there are fewer than two bank branches per 100,000 people, this represents a near doubling of accessible financial services.

These numbers are significant, but what do they mean for the people of Haiti?  Why should we care about the growth of mobile money in Haiti and the rest of the developing world? 

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Haiti “A Country Undeniably on the Move”

Originally posted in The Miami Herald

It’s been two years since one of the most deadly natural disasters of the modern era devastated one of the poorest countries in the world. Even with an unprecedented international response in partnership with the Haitian government, the sheer scale of the 7.0 earthquake—which killed 230,000 people and displaced over 1.5 million—meant the country’s recovery would be a massive undertaking.

As President Obama directed, the US Government joined with the Haitian government to conduct search and rescue operations, clear streets of rubble and provide emergency supplies to survivors of the earthquake. Individual Americans have been a vital part of the effort — in 2010, more Americans donated money to Haiti relief efforts than watched the Super Bowl.

Despite daunting challenges over the last two years, today we can point to several specific results on the ground. Over half of the 10 million tons of rubble has been cleared from Port-au-Prince’s streets, more people have access to clean water today than before the earthquake, and collective efforts have mitigated the outbreak of cholera that killed thousands in the country.

In former President Bill Clinton’s words, our focus must now be on working with the Haitian government to “build back better.”

With the leadership of Secretary Clinton, we are trying to harness the transformative power of science, technology and innovation to accelerate economic progress and improve lives throughout Haiti.

For instance, instead of investing in rebuilding banks that fell during the earthquake, we worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to launch a mobile banking revolution in the country. Nearly two-thirds of Haiti’s population has access to mobile phones but only 10 percent have bank accounts. By introducing technology that allows Haitians to save money and make transactions on their phones, we’re encouraging local wealth creation. To date, nearly 800,000 Haitians have registered for mobile banking, helping Haiti likely become one of the first mobile money economies in the world.

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Meeting Needs and Supporting Disaster Management in the Philippines

The people of the Philippines have been hit hard by Tropical Storm Washi (known locally as Sendong.) Heavy rains, storm surges, flash flooding, and landslides have rocked communities on the island of Mindanao, with 1,249 people reported dead as of December 27, nearly 55,000 still in evacuation centers, and hundreds of thousands affected.

USAID responded immediately, providing an initial $100,000 for disaster-relief efforts and putting disaster management specialists on the ground to assess conditions. The Agency is providing an additional $800,000 in emergency assistance to continue to support ongoing emergency relief operations, including the distribution of emergency shelter kits, water purification tablets, water containers, and hygiene kits.

USAID is also supporting logistical operations to ensure the uninterrupted delivery of emergency supplies to the most affected populations, particularly in the hardest hit cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.

However, our investment in addressing disaster risks and impact in the Philippines actually goes back many years, and is more than direct disaster response. Knowing the Philippine islands face continued risks from storms, typhoons, earthquakes, volcanoes and other natural hazards, the United States has been working with the Philippine Government and regional and local groups since 1998 to train and prepare emergency responders.

The Program for the Enhancement of Emergency Response, known as PEER, has been instrumental in staffing Philippine search-and-rescue and first-responder groups like the Philippines National Red Cross, the Bureau of Fire Protection, the Office of Civil Defense, and even the Armed Forces. Graduates of the program must complete standardized coursework in medical first response, collapsed structure search and rescue, and hospital preparedness for mass casualties.

USAID and the U.S. Forest Service also have trained Philippine emergency personnel in what is known as the Incident Command System or ICS, which makes sure responders are “speaking the same language,” or in other words, are working under the same response framework.

The United States continues to be a key partner of the Philippines by providing humanitarian assistance when disasters strike, as well as helping the people of the Philippines strengthen their disaster preparedness capacity and improve communities’ resilience to disasters.

Learn more about USAID’s response in the Philippines.

Building Resilience in the Horn of Africa

Nancy Lindborg is USAID’s Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance.

The drought gripping the Horn of Africa has focused all of us on the imperative of building resilience. We know we can’t prevent drought, but we can use improved and smarter programs to create greater resilience and improve food security. We can make progress that ensures the next time a drought hits the Horn, it won’t push 13.4 million people — unimaginably more than New York City and Los Angeles combined — into crisis.

So what is resilience exactly, and what are the key methods for success? In pursuit of that answer, USAID convened last week, in partnership with IFPRI and our many partners, a two day workshop on “Enhancing Resilience in the Horn of Africa: An Evidence Workshop on Strategies for Success.” Through President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative, the U.S. government now has a powerful global hunger and food security initiative that connects its enduring commitment to humanitarian assistance with increased investments in agriculture and nutrition and sound policy. This workshop was designed to inform our programs with the our best lessons and strategies for tackling chronic food insecurity.

“Resilience” is quite literally the ability to jump back; to return to original form. It has become a vivid one-word way to capture the importance of providing emergency assistance in a way that helps families and communities both withstand shocks and, as importantly, become more stable and food secure. While there is not a common accepted definition of resilience, building resilience generally involves reducing the likelihood and severity of crises; building capacity to buffer or absorb shocks; creating and enhancing communities’ or families’ ability to respond; and reducing the impact of crises.

The workshop underscored how much we have already learned from previous drought and famines. In Ethiopia in 2002-2003, drought left 14 million people in need of emergency aid – more than those currently in need throughout the entire Horn region today. Out of that tragedy grew policies, programs, and approaches that have made a lasting impact. In fact, some 7.5 million fewer people in Ethiopia are not part of the emergency caseload because of the work collectively done since the last drought.

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This Week at USAID – September 6, 2011

After a hiatus, we will be continuing the “This Week at USAID” series on the first day of the work week.

Thursday, September 8th is International Literacy Day. The Center for Universal Education at Brookings, the Education for All-Fast Track Initiative, and USAID will mark the day by hosting a series of panel discussions on how a range of education stakeholders are addressing the challenge of improving literacy, particularly at lower primary levels, to help fulfill the promise of quality education for all.

Stephen Haykin will be sworn-in as USAID Mission Director to Georgia.

Raja Jandhyala, USAID’s Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Africa, will testify before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights on the long-term needs in East Africa.

Alex Their, USAID’s Assistant to the Administrator and Director of the Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs, will testify before U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on development programs in Afghanistan.

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